Consumer Reports published a home buyer’s guide to espresso makers this month: ConsumerReports.org – Buyer’s guide to espresso makers 3/07. As with a lot of things in Consumer Reports, they often lack sufficient knowledge or background to offer educated opinions beyond winging it with what’s on the surface. (Well, beyond that and Consumers Union‘s usual internal arrogance of believing that all consumers are good and vendors evil. But that’s another story.)

I can look past the article talking about Starbucks as if it were just a recent fad. But trouble brews when they mention Bialetti among the espresso machine brands sold in the U.S., and yet four paragraphs later they clearly state “espresso is made by forcing hot water under pressure through tightly packed, or tamped, finely ground coffee”. (Bialetti moka pots use steam rather than water under pressure — and thus technically they do not make espresso.) The other brands in their list are makers of historically cheap, landfill-bound home appliances — with a shaver and a popcorn popper manufacturer thrown in for good measure.

It gets dicier, with the article emphasizing the the ever-popular-and-delusional cost savings benefits of these home espresso machines. And when it comes to the taste test, they treat espresso machines as if they were self-contained, standalone appliances that pump out uniform cups of espresso, regardless of the grinder and the beans used. As if we all plug our home espresso machines into a wall socket for a steady stream of freshly ground coffee that appears on our monthly PG&E bill.

Consumer Reports tested seven machines as if coffee is a commodity like electricity. As when SFist Jeremy Nisen skewered a Los Angeles Times article that attempted to comparatively review coffees last year (“Know Your Coffee Reviewers”), this oversimplified approach is disingenuous and counter-productive. How can you reasonably compare one machine that can use fresh coffee beans with a pod machine that must use the requesite packets of stale, pre-ground beans — without taking all these other factors into account?

And yet despite the world of difference between fresh coffee beans and not, Consumer Reports concluded with much love for the Nespresso. Not that it’s a bad espresso machine. But personally, I cannot make it past their required stale, pre-ground beans. Fortunately for Nespresso, many of their customers have been so conditioned by stale, pre-ground beans (the reviewers of Consumer Reports apparently included), they’ve come to expect — and believe there is — nothing more.